Thursday, October 27, 2011

Syme and Late James: I Just Can't Hack It

I had considered writing a blog post entitled "Was There Something Wrong With Sir Ronald Syme'sMedulla Oblongata?" Then I asked myself how many people would get the joke. Then I asked myself how many people understand me at all. Then I told myself to stop feeling sorry for myself.

Also, to do real justice to that title, I would have had to re-read some of Syme's work. And Syme's work has irritated me about as much as anyone's in English with which I am familiar. Right up there with Henry James' The American Scene.With late James, and especially with the mentioned work, my difficulty is verbs and adjectives at such a distance from their subjects named more specifically than with pronouns that I despair of ever being able to attatch them properly; Syme irritates me with the over-use of periods. Which unnecessarily breaks up medium- to long-sized sentences. Into smaller ones. Which in turn leads to the above-mentioned conjecture. About the poor man's lower brain stem. A medical speculation not necessarily to be taken seriously. And not the only stylistic affection of Syme's which annoys me. But to find the others, I'd have to read more Syme. Which I really don't want to do. So suffice it for now to say that the turnip would use twelve periods after the last semicolon above. By the time I would use one. If I were not mocking him.

I like the earlier James just fine. And I understand that his later works -- things like The American Scene and, to me, almost as impenetrable, The Golden Bowl-- were often dictated. Which makes me wonder whether, if I had heard James speak them, I would've understood them much better. Or whether I would've I would've run about clutching my head in helpless, just as thoroughly uncomprehending anger and misery and screaming alarmingly. If not actually comprehending less.

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